Millennials’ manners are a defence mechanism against a hostile world | Barbara Ellen

Young people care more about etiquette online than in real life, research reveals

Are millennials selfish and rude or do they just define etiquette differently to older people? And if the latter is true, is that just to stop themselves going mad?

A survey, published last week, found that 42% of millennials – people reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century – wouldn’t give up their seat for somebody elderly or pregnant on public transport, while almost one in three would ignore a queuing system. However, more than a third of those surveyed thought it impolite to ignore people on social media, while other objections included texts being read over people’s shoulders and programme spoilers.

So, Young People, let’s get this straight (jabs accusing crone-like finger): sitting on a train or bus while a pregnant woman or elderly person stands is absolutely fine. But if someone accidentally mentions what happened in an episode of Stranger Things you haven’t seen, that’s downright rude? Sheesh, priorities…

Not that stereotyping millennials as antisocial and selfish works. That recent cheering surge of last-minute electoral registering was said to mainly come from millennials. Moreover, in the Extinction Rebellion era, older people would have a damn nerve accusing the young of being disengaged.

Still, it’s intriguing that there’s a tendency among millennials to prioritise online etiquette over real-life manners. It would seem to reverse what’s generally presumed about online conduct – aren’t people supposed to feel emboldened to behave worse online? Maybe that’s tragic older types, who still haven’t managed to get over the novelty of the internet’s cloak of invisibility. In contrast, younger people take it so for granted they have developed a far greater sense of accountability for their online identities.

Certainly, it’s interesting to think that some younger humans prefer to exist in their most realised form in the online world, even developing better manners there. Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, they’re barging through queues, not opening doors and ambling around semi-detached, almost as though other people are made of pixels in the real world.

All of which is mystifying until you take a look at what comprises reality for many young folk. Millennials have plenty to feel disengaged about in a world where they’re been shafted out of real-life futures at every turn (economic, professional, climate, home-ownership, affording to have children, everything). Had all this been our lot when we were young, maybe we’d also have opted to be our better selves, living our best lives, in an online reality. While millennials should realise that they exist in the real, rather than virtual, world, older people need to realise that millennials are becoming dangerously detached from a world that keeps kicking them in the teeth. That said, have a heart, millennials – let the pregnant women sit down.

A mea culpa via social media? Sorry, Timbers, but that’s bad

Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake
Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake: ‘a strong lapse of judgment’. I should say so. Photograph: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

How wonderfully modern that Justin Timberlake took to Instagram to apologise to his wife, Jessica Biel.

After being snapped looking inebriated on a balcony, holding hands with his Palmer co-star Alisha Wainwright, Timberlake began his Insta-soz post saying: “I stay away from gossip as much as I can.” Of course you do, you marvellous, honourable man! Timbers continued: “A few weeks ago I displayed a strong lapse of judgment – but let me clear – nothing happened with my co-star… I drank way too much that night and I regret my behaviour… I apologise to my amazing wife and family… I am focused on being the best husband and father I can be…” Blah blah, yak yak.

The post ends with a reference to Palmer – because, hey ladeez, nothing says “sorry” more meaningfully than a film plug.

There’s nothing wrong with an apology, but why did it have to happen on social media? One presumes, as husband and wife, Timberlake and Biel have occasional face-time access to each other (schedules permitting). And aren’t celebrities constantly gassing about media invasions of their privacy? Yet here’s Timberlake invading his own privacy, blasting out an apology to Biel rather strangely in front of the world and humiliating Wainwright (the “co-star”; it would appear that no name is necessary) in the process.

I’d love to think that this was Biel’s doing: “Oi, you messed up in public – you can apologise in public too.” Sadly, one suspects that this wasn’t so much an apology as a brand announcement to repair Timberlake’s reputation. So it’s technically more of an apology to his agent and marketing team. Next time Timberlake needs to apologise to his wife, maybe he should consider doing it with a big bunch of flowers and a box of Milk Tray – even better, some humility and sincerity behind firmly closed doors.

Guys, you’ll never win a girl by giving her a Peloton

Peloton exercise bike
The Peloton ad: ‘reductive and sexist’. Photograph: Peloton/Youtube

It’s the Christmas gift of a woman’s dreams – being told that you’re out of shape by your significant other. Peloton, which produces £2,000 exercise bikes that access virtual spin classes, has just wiped $1.5bn off its share value with a misguided festive advert featuring a man giving his partner a bike.

Instead of the woman saying something realistic such as: “Get out!”, she has a gratitude orgasm, pedalling furiously and simpering: “I didn’t realise how much this would change me.” Well, some of us didn’t realise that feminism would be pronounced dead in late 2019.

Meanwhile, the man sits on the sofa doing faff all, presumably becoming fit by osmosis. However, while this advert was reductive and sexist, the main problem is that a man (even a fictional one) dared to give a woman an exercise bike for Christmas, which is only marginally better timing than Valentine’s Day.

Yes, there is an obesity crisis, but no one has the right to comment on anyone else’s fitness. Memo to men: unless requested, gym equipment beats even “unspecified domestic appliance” in the top 10 of dud gifts guaranteed to make a woman hate you. And, yes, I do mean forever. Astonishing as it may seem, women don’t fantasise about being presented with the opportunity to strive to look hotter for you.

• Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist


Barbara Ellen

The GuardianTramp

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